Verbum Ultimum: Reassessing the Greek System

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 11/8/12 11:00pm

This has been a long and transformative year for Dartmouth's social culture, one often characterized by conflict between segments of the student body and the administration. New policies aimed at curbing harmful hazing practices and widespread binge drinking have been particularly significant sources of intense controversy.

In recent months, we have criticized the administration on multiple occasions for its policies aimed at addressing social issues. However, the time has come for the entire community students in particular to reevaluate the role of the Greek system in structuring campus life. The College is preparing to announce a new strategic direction in 2013 at the conclusion of Interim President Carol Folt's strategic planning initiative, and we believe that potentially radical plans to limit the prominence of Greek houses plans that were taken off the table with the failure of the Student Life Initiative over a decade ago should be seriously considered. This call will undoubtedly be unpopular, but in this particular case, the vocal majority of students that blindly supports the status quo is misguided and uninformed.

We are not advocating for the total elimination of the Greek system. Treated properly, Greek houses can be places for the cultivation of profound and lasting friendships and can serve as open and inclusive spaces for socializing. However, problems arise from the fact that, for many students, membership in a Greek organization has come to define their Dartmouth experience rather than supplement it. The sacrifices that we have seen so many students make in their lives in order to become more involved in Greek life are unproductive and often absurd. An extraordinary number of Dartmouth students end up neglecting academic work, abandoning extracurricular activities or quitting sports teams as a result of their affiliation. A number of students have even gone so far as to modify their D-Plans so that they can rush a second time rather than going abroad. To the extent that the Greek system directly or indirectly influences some of the smartest and most motivated students in the country to make such ridiculous decisions, it can truly be a detrimental force for many students at this college.

Much has been said of the deleterious effects of the binge drinking culture that surrounds the Greek system at Dartmouth. It is no secret that many of us as members of Greek organizations resist change so as to avoid any sort of restriction on our capacity to binge drink, even if those resistances are thinly veiled in claims about promoting student safety or attempts to redirect focus on houses' philanthropic efforts. While we recognize the value of having organized social outlets in college, what we have seen at Dartmouth is the significant and detrimental effect of Greek life on other aspects of students' experiences. Unfortunately, it is undeniable that the Greek system has negative spillover effects in the non-social realm. Many students who could potentially play leading roles in a wide variety of productive campus organizations and activities instead go on to take meaningless leadership positions in veritable drinking clubs.

Institutional memory among students at Dartmouth is inherently short. By the time we become experienced and old enough to truly recognize the problems with the system, we are on the cusp of graduation. As students cycle through the system, we have seen the same problems surrounding our dominant social culture recur year after year with little change. While any effort by the administration to change Greek life such that it does not so negatively affect other aspects of students' experiences will surely be unpopular, we implore both the administration and the student body to be courageous enough to take another look at changing the role of Greek life on this campus.

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